Before launching into my review of Flux Theatre Ensemble's Deinde written by August Schulenberg and directed by Heather Cohn, I feel I must restate my preferences as a theater maker and reviewer for work that functions outside the more traditional American naturalism framework. I wish all reviewers would state their preferences, but because most tend to view things from the mainstream American naturalist framework, generally they feel their tastes are "right" as opposed to learned...
I want to add, too, that on the night I saw the show there were a number of people enjoying the show a great deal. I say this because I have directed and written many shows where the particular reviewer may have reservations about the show, but then globalized her experience to include the whole audience, which I do not want to do.
OK, so all disclaimers having been written, I will now tell you my experience of watching Deinde.
Walking into the space at The Secret Theatre, we see a back wall filled with math equations and a number of clear plastic tablets in front of that wall. We are in a science-y world. The play opens with a tableau of a chess match. Immediately, I felt like I was watching a scene from a movie or TV, probably sci-fi. The self-consciously witty banter, the types, etc. felt like a take on any number of action-sci fi movies ranging from Star Trek (which is directly referred to later in the play in one of the more effective scenes) to the Alien series. I thought at first therefore that this style was done consciously and the sense of familiar roles, etc. may be drawn out more or done in a way that indicated this was intentional.
The play is long (two acts) and follows an interesting plot line about a virus that is killing many people and an attempt to combat the virus through a kind of mind mutation on the researchers who are willing to have this technology attached to their brains (our younger protagonists who see no possible downside to this endeavor - who are set in contrast to the older researchers who hesitate). I will not spoil the plot by saying how it turns out, because the most enjoyable part of the experience is watching how this contemporary version of a Faustian bargain unfolds.
My biggest issue with the play, however, was the overall production style, which hewed (with a few notable exceptions) to the American naturalist TV genre. What I thought at the outset might be a parody of this genre, especially sci-fi, turned out instead to be a sincere attempt at characterization. However, the scenes were about as long as TV segments (with breaks that included the actors moving furniture, etc.) and the depth of most of the characters felt the same as well - recognizable, likable enough but not challenging in any way or implying any kind of depth outside of their roles in the plot devices.
Most of the actors seemed like they were acting from the neck up, with the exception of Alyssa Simon as Dara, the wife of one of the researchers, who did an extraordinary job with a monologue of revelation about life that may be possible if she is not dying of the virus and the earthy, vibrant presence of Sol Marina Crespo as Mindy, the girlfriend of one of the younger researchers.
There were exceptions to the predominant acting style when the researchers who are "looped in" gain a kind of eerie synchronicity and odd speech patterns that were also enjoyable and well executed by Isaiah Tanenbaum and Rachel Hip-Flores.
The ideas in the piece are interesting and some of the lines are very funny, like equating the older researchers' prejudice against and inability to understand the new ideas available in the hyperlinked world of the new researchers as the response to "when Dylan went electric." There are provocative questions hinted at about soul and identity, but I never felt the play really engage viscerally in the sense of theatrical presence with these ideas in a way that moved me or made me think in a new way.
Flux Theatre wants to create "transformative theatre," and I believe that is a worthy and ambitious goal. They clearly have the intelligence to do this, and they have received many positive reviews for this play, so in the world in which they engage, this will most likely be viewed a success. To extend the music metaphor, think of me as John Zorn or Cage coming in to crash the rock-n-roll party and take my opinion for whatever it's worth knowing it comes from a different way of hearing, seeing, experiencing...Ironically, this is the subject matter of the play - and in the case of this plot - the people who have 'evolved' past the familiar of their own world are made to pay in a pretty drastic way.
Welcome to my blog..
"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty
When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I met in 2011. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog is tracing the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that features too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June 2012 my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island.
I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC and as of June 2014 has a green card. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.
As of September 2013 I started teaching writing (composition and rhetoric) as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. So blessed for the opportunity and hope to find a more permanent job doing same.
I worked full time on the book thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign in May 2014 and completed it at two residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House in summer 2015. I have done some revisions and am shopping it around to agents and publishers now, along with having written a rough draft of a new book and some other projects.
Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.
For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile and website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. You can find me on Facebook under my full name Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani
Recently, I started a website Our Grandmothers, Our Selves, which has stories about many people's grandmothers. Please check it out. I will be blogging there, too, now.